Using "Forbidden" Food

''Forbidden'' foods are high-fat, high-sugar, relatively low-nutrient foods such as sweets, chips and sodas. As with everything else about parenting, using them is a balancing act. If you give your child unlimited access to these easy-to-like foods, she is likely to fill up on them and not be interested in learning to like more-challenging foods such as vegetables. On the other hand, you need to prepare her for when she can get unlimited access on her own. 

Don't restrict "forbidden" food.

You might be able to keep "forbidden food" away from your child when she is little, but not when she is older and out on her own. The idea is to allow your child to feel relaxed and be matter-of-fact about all kinds of foods. Then, even when you aren't around to supervise, she will eat moderately of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, the same as other foods. Research shows that children whose forbidden food intake is restricted eat more of them when they get the chance and are fatter than they might be otherwise.  

Make wise use of ''forbidden'' food

  • Include chips or fries at mealtime, and arrange to have enough so everyone can eat their fill. Unlike sweets, fatty foods don't compete with other mealtime foods.
  • Put a serving of dessert (if you like dessert) at each person’s place. Let them eat it before, during, or after the meal. No seconds on dessert. 
  • Periodically offer unlimited sweets at snack time. For instance, put on a plate of cookies or snack cakes and a glass of milk, and let her eat as many cookies as she wants.

Why limit sweets at mealtime but not snacktime?

The dessert recommendation breaks the rule of the division of responsibility, but with good reason. Your child will push herself along to learn and grow with food, but she will also take the easy way out if it is offered. Letting her fill up on dessert offers an easy way out. But because the dessert rule sets up scarcity with sweets, you must counteract that scarcity. At snack time (that would be a sit-down snack), you can let your child eat as many sweets as she wants because the sweets aren't competing with other meal-time foods. At first she will eat a lot of sweets, but the newness will wear off and after while she won't eat so many. Offering nutritious sweets, such as oatmeal cookies or banana bread, will make it easier for you to trust her to get enough!

What about soda?

If you drink soda, maintain a double standard. Tell your child it is a grownup drink, which it is. When she is old enough to learn about soda-drinking from friends-probably in middle school--arrange to have soda occasionally for snack or along with a particular meal, such as pizza or tacos. The trick is including it regularly enough so it doesn't get to be ''forbidden,'' but not making it available in unlimited quantities, all the time.

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